Dashcams – do you need one?

16 June 2016
Digital cameras mounted inside the windscreen of your vehicle, also known as dashcams, have the potential to be a game changer on the road. That’s because they continuously record the view through the vehicle’s windscreen – automatically capturing some accidents or incidents on the road.

Why is that important?

Dashcams can capture those moments that would normally come down to your “version” of the story as a driver. Whatever the occurrence – a car cutting you off, someone jumping in front of your vehicle – the dashcam records it and saves it for later reference. This can provide evidence to assist police in the event of an accident or to prove to an insurer exactly what happened when making a claim. It’s especially useful when there are no witnesses, if both drivers claim to have been the innocent party or it’s a hit and run incident.

Unquestionably the most prominent benefit of dashcams for drivers is to limit their liability in insurance disputes but there are other benefits too. Safety and security of vehicles is a growing area of concern and this technology goes some way to providing this. You would also think it would lead to greater safety on the road if drivers knew they could be caught out. The increased awareness of dashcams being used on our roads must surely act as a deterrent for drivers, putting them on notice that their actions are subject to the risk of being caught.

Dashcams can have the same effect that road safety and red light cameras have on our roads. When people become aware that they are driving within the vicinity of these cameras, the natural response is put a stop to their illegal behaviour. Similarly, with the use of dash cams, if drivers on our roads realise that this device can capture them committing road offences, which may lead to police prosecution, they may become reluctant to commit these offences. One can only hope.



How much can a dashcam save on your insurance premium?

Well, absolutely nothing, as far as Canstar can gather but perhaps it’s only a matter of time before car insurers recognize that dashcams can help resolve claims more efficiently, and thus reward drivers with a discount on their premiums.

That said, dashcams don’t prevent accidents from happening, and currently there isn’t any evidence that points to dashcams making people better drivers, so why would there be a discount? And, if you’re a driver, you will know of the idiotic behaviour out there on the open road. Unfortunately, there’s no law against stupidity and some of those stupid drivers have dashcams. I rest my case.

Footage may help

As we mentioned above, some insurance companies may accept dashcam footage when trying to prove you’re not at fault in an accident. If your claim becomes a dispute, it’s always better to have more evidence than less. Why not phone your insurance company and ask them about their policy on dashcams?

Having footage of an accident doesn’t guarantee that it will be used, however. And to be fair, they don’t always provide a clear picture of what happened in a car accident: say at an intersection. While many dashcams try to offer as wide a view as possible, it’s still only pointed in one direction. Because of that and the potential graininess of some cheaper models, dashcams might show something happening, but may not help explain why it happened. The “why” is the most important part when determining if you’re at fault or not. Still, it’s better than nothing, assuming your car insurance provider will take a look at it.

Additionally, if you’re the victim of a hit-and-run, footage can at least prove that the accident happened and there are a lot of instances where having even a small amount of evidence is the difference between getting something and nothing at all. Some dashcam models can turn on when they detect motion, making it possible to catch those jerks that bump into your car in the car park and don’t leave a note.

Is it legal?

In the majority of circumstances, car cameras are perfectly legal to use in Australia. The only real exception is if you use it to record a private act (such as inside a garage or building) or record a private conversation. Naturally, you also need to ensure that the cam doesn’t obstruct your vision and adhere to the same GPS/phone mount rules that apply in your state. Basically, this amounts to not fiddling with the device while driving.

Because dashcams record video (and possibly audio), they could potentially be considered electronic surveillance devices. In some Australian states, secretly recording conversations is against the law. This is unlikely to be an issue when driving around in a vehicle, but you should probably let your passengers know that their conversations might be picked up by the dashcam. Alternatively, just buy a model that doesn’t record audio, or disable the audio recording functionality (in the event of an accident, it will probably just pick up swearing anyway).

Do you need a dashcam?

While the benefits of owning a dashcam aren’t exactly concrete, there’s no real downside to having one as long as you follow your local laws. But do you need one? Not really. If you want one, however, there are enough benefits to justify the cost of a reasonably-priced model. Some people recommend mounting both a front and back-facing camera, but again, there’s no guarantee you’ll need it. For now, buying a dashcam is like buying insurance extras: it might just be your saving grace under the right circumstances, but there’s no huge benefit to it upfront. At the moment.

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